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Vivienne Westwood: An Unfashionable Life [Paperback]

Jane Mulvagh
2.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
RRP: £11.99
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Book Description

22 July 2011

The acclaimed biography of one of England’s great eccentrics and leading fashion designers, reissued in an updated edition to coincide with a major exhibition of Westwood’s work at the Victoria & Albert Museum.

• For three decades, Vivienne Westwood has been Britain’s most consistently original, outrageous, eccentric and controversial designer. In that time she has evolved from an iconoclastic outsider to an internationally revered figure, with two British Designer of the Year awards, an OBE, her own successful fashion label and an unrivalled reputation for leading where other designers follow.
• Her lifestyle could scarcely be in greater contrast to the opulence which surrounds other leading designers: until recently she lived in a modest council flat in South London, and she still travels around the capital by bicycle, dressed in her own flamboyant creations, with a plastic bag protecting her hair from the elements. How did an awkward girl from a conventional and provincial background become one of world fashion’s most influential and respected designers? How has she managed to remain true to her own idiosyncratic vision, refusing to conform to the fashion industry’s, and society’s, expectations?
• Speaking to Westwood herself, her friends, lovers, colleagues, rivals, admirers and detractors, Jane Mulvagh has created a portrait as rich, distinctive and constantly surprising as her subject’s character and work.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins; New Ed edition (22 July 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007177062
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007177066
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 2.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 346,959 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

Age has not dimmed Britain's most outrageous designer. Since she exploded on to the fashion scene more than 20 years ago, Vivienne Westwood--with her influential succession of London shops such as SEX, her famous partnership with punk impresario Malcolm McLaren, her season after season of eclectic collections--has been a controversial and sometimes bizarre figure.

Born in Glossop, Derbyshire in 1941, Westwood was a schoolteacher, wife, and mother when she met McLaren in 1965. He immediately challenged what he viewed as her provincial misconceptions, and channelled her huge artistic creativity. "I was a coin and he showed me the other side", she later said. Her designs and his entrepreneurial flair ensured the duo a place in British rock and fashion history as the inspiration behind the styles of punk and New Romanticism. By 1983, when both their personal and professional partnership was over, Westwood had become a formidable fashion force in her own right, and even teetered on the edge of the Establishment when she was awarded the OBE in 1992--though she did turn up knickerless to the ceremony at Buckingham Palace.

Jane Mulvagh, a fashion historian with an insider's experience of the designer world, has written a packed and exhilarating biography of the woman who has twice been British Designer of the Year, and who continues to exasperate, scandalise, and inspire--but never to emulate. --Catherine Taylor


‘The most compelling fashion biography for years. Honest, witty, perceptive, vivid. Each chapter is filled with insights’ Suzy Menkes, International Herald Tribune
‘A commanding study. Westwood’s life is rendered with intensity and precision’ Simon Garfield, Mail on Sunday
‘A very good book: immaculately researched and full of original observations’ Stephen Bayley, Observer
‘Nobody could read this book and not understand why it is that Westwood continues to interest and infuriate in equal measure’ Lucia van der Post, Financial Times

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
The author of this book is a journalist and is/was employed by Vogue as a fashion historian. She also has known Vivienne Westwood personally for a long time.
The book traces Vivienne Westwood's history, mostly based on interviews (some conducted by the author, some previously published). Large parts of the book consist of anecdotes or stories, many of them showing Westwood in a negative light. Mulvagh presents Westwood as a person who is dependent on, and acts on the ideas of, male mentors, namely Malcolm McLaren, Gary Ness (Westwood's intellectual mentor and "guru"), and Andreas Kronthaler, Westwood's current husband. In some cases Mulvagh claims that Westwood uttered what Mulvagh contemptuously calls "Gary-speak" - that is, a semi-digested repetition of Ness' ideas.
Westwood is presented as a rather humorless person who constantly lectures others and on occasion shamelessly steals ideas from other designers. The latter may be true, but there is a very fuzzy border between inspiration and copying, and even artists such as Michelangelo "copied" or was inspired by other artists' ideas. Also, artists working together on the same project is a common thing, both in the past and the present, and there is nothing wrong with this.
The tone of the book is often condescending (reflecting the attitude of the university graduate towards the degreeless autodidact?). The creative aspect is neglected over large parts of the book; a more detailed discussion of the sources and the type of research done by Westwood would have been of interest for anybody who has a serious interest in fashion or design.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Anything is better than nothing. 3 Jun 2001
By A Customer
This is by no means an excellent book, but it was readable. The problem is that there are so few books on Westwood, that anything (regardless of quality) is worth reading. It was certainly a lot better than Fred Vermorel's book on Westwood.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Paris, London, and beyond! 13 April 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This gives Jon Savage's 'England's Dreaming' a run for its money but with more material for essays and dissertations. Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren - the Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beavoir of the 70s and 80s, with more followers through Fashion and Music. Don't you just love post-Modernism?
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